Press release: “Launching June 1, 2019, Newburgh is the first expansion for Urban Archive outside of New York City. Urban Archive, a technology non-profit, had their start in 2016 working with three institutional partners and only a few hundred archival photographs. Today, Urban Archive’s digital platform features more than 80,000 geolocated images sourced from more than two dozen organizations in New York City. These images, which are available at your fingertips on a free iOS app, constitute a vital resource for the documentation of the City’s rich history.
Local institutions in the Hudson Valley have now begun to make their rich photographic collections publicly accessible, utilizing Urban Archive’s digital platform to tell their stories: the important intersections of architecture, preservation, place, and community. Through this new partnership, Newburgh residents and visitors can use the Urban Archive mobile app to interact with Newburgh’s history where it happened through archival photos and special features such as curated walking tours, audio tours, and DIY then-and-now photo recreations. For this launch, five collaborative partners have added over 148 images of historic Newburgh for users to explore.
Situated 60 miles north of New York City, Newburgh NY is the second largest historic district in New York State with architectural styles representing three centuries. Walking through the city, visitors will learn about the buildings and their stories with the Urban Archive mobile app. Examples include structures by renowned local architect Frank E. Estabrook whose specialty was designing public buildings and schools, AME Zion Church where Frederick Douglass visited in 1870, and the endangered Dutch Reformed Church – an 1835 Greek Revival “temple” that is on the World Monuments Fund’s list of the “100 Most Endangered Sites”. Like many industrial cities, Newburgh suffered through the mid-20th century losing jobs, taxes, investment and over 1,000 structures to a failed urban renewal program. Some of Newburgh’s lost notable buildings are also included in Urban Archive.
Collaboration is essential in compiling these archives. Local partners include City of Newburgh Heritage Center, Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands, The Newburgh Free Library, The Southeastern NY Library Resources Council and The Department of Small Interventions. The five partnering organizations are excited to see how the platform can be utilized by teachers, students, and researchers to uncover location-based history. The team welcomes the opportunity to expand membership to other organizations who want to share their collections with the public.”
Open for 63 years, closed for 68. The Tower of Victory is open once again thanks to the efforts of the Palisades Park Conservancy to raise 1.8 million dollars through private philanthropy and public grants. The tower is not open to the public yet but will reopen very soon. Article by Johanna Yaun, Orange County Historian.
In 1883, Newburgh was the site of a weeklong gala celebration to commemorate centennial of the end of the Revolutionary War. Over a hundred thousand people descended on the city from around the world to take part in festivities that included parades, military demonstrations, and patriotic speeches. Abraham Lincoln’s son, Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln, announced plans to erect a monument at Newburgh to commemorate “the events which took place there a century ago.” Four years later, this monument would be unveiled as the Tower of Victory.
When planning began for the centennial monument, it was originally envisioned as a statue of Washington that would “awaken increased interest and regard for the picturesque stone house now consecrated by so many memories of the past.” By 1886, plans had expanded to enclose the statue in a stone tower that would “typify the rugged simplicity of the times and personages.” Architects Maurice J. Power and John H. Duncan, who would later become known for their work on the 1892 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Grant’s Tomb in Manhattan, and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, were commissioned to design the tower. By the end of 1887, the monument was complete and the idea for a simple statue had grown into an imposing structure that visitors could climb for a view of the vistas of the Hudson River at Newburgh Bay.
In 1950 a severe storm damaged the roof of the Tower of Victory and it was removed to prevent further damage to the base. For 68 years it was closed to the public.
If you have ever visited Washington’s Headquarters, you might have passed the historic AME Zion Church on Washington Street right in front of the municipal parking lot. An article and video published in the Times Herald-Record on May 28, 2018, announced that the local congregation is considering tearing down the church, and the adjacent structure to take advantage of two empty side lots they have purchased to build 50 affordable apartments.
When examining this area contextually, there has been much loss of historic buildings. In the last decade alone, half of East Parmenter Street and other surrounding buildings have been demolished due to deterioration from neglect, and the municipal parking lot wasn’t always an empty space, it used to be a factory. It should also be of note, that just steps away at 135-137 Washington is a men’s shelter. The Clinton Hotel isn’t far behind from completely collapsing – all of this steps away from one of Newburgh’s richest assets, Washington’s Headquarters.
Orange County Historian, Johanna Yaun, wrote about the historical significance of the building in her newsletter:
In 2020 Newburgh will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’s jubilee march along Washington Street. The leaders of the AME Zion Church used his appearance to mark the passing of the 15th Amendment, which granted voting rights to African American men. By 1870 the church had already become a symbol of liberty, nicknamed “the freedom church” thanks to its associations with the Underground Railroad.
Although the 1905 structure that stands now is not the modest house of worship built by the congregation’s founders, and not the same walls that reverberated the booming voice of Frederick Douglass from the pulpit that’s still used today, this building is a symbol of the grand strides of the African-American community in Newburgh as they passed on the flame of civil advocacy for centuries.
In an age when the American public is making an effort to remove monuments of oppression and contextualize historical symbols in our society, why are we not looking to preserve and elevate the symbols of the struggle for equality? This church would have been an incredible source of pride and progress at a time when “separate but equal” was the law of the land. As a monument, this building combats offensive cultural symbols from the past. It doesn’t put any one person on a pedestal, recognizing that true progress comes from the strength of the right to assembly. Also, it gets away from isolating one date or accomplishment, acknowledging that the struggle for equality has been sustained through generations.
Orange County Historian
“This is Milton Gray in the close-up and I believe the rightmost man in the other picture. I included him with my grandmother Edythe ‘Edie’ Gray. Who passed away this past weekend.” Photos by Chelsey Flannery.
If you have old Newburgh photos you would like to share on Newburgh Restoration email me.
Photo © Tom Daley
The following is a three-part series by Lynn Woods, co-producer and co-director of Lost Rondout: A Story of Urban Removal, a one-hour documentary chronicling the urban renewal of downtown Kingston.
Of course, it wasn’t just millions of square feet of brick, stone, clapboard, marble, and glass that vanished. An entire community was uprooted and dispersed, causing hardship to thousands. Many residents were African Americans who’d been part of the Great Migration and had resided in Newburgh less than a decade. The urban renewal records, which include files on many families and businesses that were displaced, reveal that in the mid-1960s, most residents of the urban renewal districts were locally employed.
“Urban renewal has poured thousands of dollars into Newburgh, and the people in the ghetto and others have seen increased hardship caused by the poorly administered Federal program,” declared William Sayles, chair of the city’s housing committee, in a talk before HUD and urban renewal officials at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on August 9, 1967. “There has been no relocation. Over 300 families have been displaced…most forced to find refuge within the confines of the Negro ghetto, which has caused severe overcrowding.”
James and Bertha Cousar, who had eight children, moved four times in little more than two years. At 12 Broad Street, urban renewal records indicate, the five-room apartment was “substandard,” with no hot water or bath. James worked at a farm in Marlboro and his wife worked at West Point Laundry. A year and a half later, they moved again, to 346 Liberty Street. Six months later, Bertha died, age 45. One speculates that the stress of moving so many times while working and caring for so many children undermined her health.
Photo © Tom Daley
In 1964, Joseph Cotton worked at Bedford Novelty Co. The bulldozers had forced him, his wife, and four children to move four times since their arrival in Newburgh five years before. They landed in the Bourne Housing public housing project in 1963, but had to move out because Joseph’s income was too high. That year a doctor submitted a report to the public housing authority noting that “Mrs. Joseph Cotton’s children have had repeated colds and sore throats which are undoubtedly related to the damp, unhealthy conditions in which they lived.”
Lily Howard recalls her grandparents’ house on Smith Street, which “was awesome…they had a backyard with an apple tree, a peach tree, and a grapevine.” They had lived there a dozen years when they were forced out. “They weren’t offered the money it was worth,” Howard said, referring to the payments the agency made to homeowners for property it acquired. “My grandmother bought a house on Lander Street but had a heart attack and died. She was broken-hearted.”
Urban renewal underway. Photo via Newburgh Free Library
Many of the houses in the urban renewal area “were not substandard,” recalled Reverend Nelson McAllister, whose father worked at the Roseton Brickyard, then Mastic Tile. “People were keeping them up. There was strong-armed pressure to sell their houses to the urban renewal agency. People didn’t feel very good about this, and it pushed us to Lander Street.” McAllister’s family lived on Smith, Montgomery and South Water before finding permanent housing on Lander. “Water Street was called Little New York, because of all the stores, including a Grant’s, Penny’s, Kresge’s, an apothecary center, and quite a few markets,” McAllister recalled. Lily Howard’s son, Phil Howard, noted that “a lot of people who were displaced went from being homeowners to renters. That changes the family structure. It tore a lot of families apart, because [their home] was their nest egg.”
Thirteen years after the first urban renewal plan was approved, the big development hadn’t happened, an irreplaceable architectural heritage had been lost, and a vibrant working-class community destroyed, but still, government officials pushed for remaking the city. In the spring of 1973 state Senator Richard Schermerhorn introduced a bill to create a public venture corporation to redevelop Newburgh’s East End with $50 million of state-backed bonds. Residents would be relocated outside the city, and the “slum” housing would be replaced by a high-rise luxury apartment building. It was an egregious attempt at black removal, and African American leaders vociferously denounced the bill.
Photo via Newburgh Free Library
The bill was approved by the state senate, but the plan never came to fruition. An article published in the Evening News on August 17, 1973, entitled “Once, Newburgh’s Waterfront bustled,” described the result of millions of dollars of urban renewal funding: “The area looked like a shell-shattered town of some gigantic war. Now with all the buildings gone it has become an undulating wasteland of weeds.” Urban renewal has left huge empty scars, and the plans still come and go.
Much of Newburgh’s waterfront is gone, but the memory of it is preserved in city and state records and numerous photos, including pairings of scenes before and after urban renewal on display on the first floor of the Old Courthouse, 123 Grand Street, the office of city historian Mary McTamaney [email@example.com]. Recently, the Newburgh Historical Society has scanned all of Tom Daley’s thousands of slides of the lost buildings and is in the process of indexing them by address. The full story of this sad chapter of Newburgh’s history is waiting to be told.
Thanks to Mary McTamaney for assisting with this article.
Lynn Woods is co-producer and co-director of Lost Rondout: A Story of Urban Removal, a one-hour documentary chronicling the urban renewal of downtown Kingston.